A Hermosa man was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for causing the death of his best friend.
Justin Bradley Wiese, 37, accepted responsibility for the death, but he provided no details about how it occurred.
“This did happen in my house with my guns, and I am responsible,” he said.
He pleaded guilty Feb. 15 to criminally negligent homicide, a Class 5 felony, in a plea agreement with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Criminally negligent homicide occurs when someone fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that results in another’s death.
Wiese was facing a maximum of three years in prison after signing the plea agreement.
Prosecutors originally charged Wiese with second-degree murder, but they lacked sufficient evidence to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt, said District Attorney Todd Risberg.
“There were issues with proving the mental state that I think was the big concern,” he said, after Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.Wiese was arrested April 20, 2011, after calling 911 to report his friend, Derrick Zuber, 42, committed suicide inside Wiese’s home in the 100 block of Hermosa Circle, about 10 miles north of Durango.Wiese said he found Zuber face down in the kitchen and dining area wearing only a T-shirt and socks. His underwear was off and lying near his feet.
“Um, I think my buddy just committed ... suicide,” he told the dispatcher, according to an arrest affidavit. He then made what sounded like a short, nervous laugh. “I just woke up and my buddy is ... he’s on the floor, he’s blue, and I found my guns on the floor.”
But a medical examiner said the fatal gunshot entered the back of Zuber’s left shoulder at an angle impossible to have been self-inflicted.
On the night of the incident, Wiese’s wife was out of town and Wiese invited Zuber to the house. They drank three or four beers and took shots of Crown Royal and Jim Beam, he told investigators. They ate T-bone steaks and watched a movie.
He said they went to bed about 9 or 10 p.m. in separate bedrooms. An investigator noticed Wiese’s bed looked slept in, but Zuber’s bed was made and undisturbed.
Wiese said he awoke about 7 a.m., walked out of his bedroom and saw Zuber lying on the floor. He kicked his leg and told him to get up, believing he was passed out from drinking.
Wiese said he made coffee and returned to find Zuber still lying on the floor. He noticed two handguns on his table and picked up both of them. He then called 911.
Zuber and Wiese were close friends. Both worked at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort – Zuber as a mechanic and Wiese as the head of the information technology department.
Wiese apologized Wednesday to Zuber’s family.
“Words cannot express my pain and sadness,” he said. “This has changed the core of me. I’ll never be the same. This has changed my life forever.”
District Judge Jeffrey Wilson said Wiese did not cooperate with the investigation, possibly misled investigators and tampered with evidence at the crime scene.
“It’s an extremely serious offense,” Wilson said. “I know it has affected you, but the effects it’s had on the Zubers and the community has been devastating.”
Risberg said he hoped Wiese would have had the “courage and decency” to tell Zuber’s parents how their only son died, but he came up short.
“It was very unsatisfying for everybody,” he said.